In the wake of yesterday's Wikileaks drama, a call by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for Internet blocking to support music copyright, has gone almost unnoticed. But the BPI's call is a siren warning that the freedom of the Internet is intensely under threat.
Yesterday, in interviews carried out alongside one of its standard press announcements about online piracy and digital music sales, BPI head, Geoff Taylor, called for Internet blocking to support music copyright. His demands were put in an interview broadcast on the BBC News 24 and in another interview given to a reporter from the Daily Telegraph. (‘Blocking' is the word which he appears to have used.) Mr Taylor wants
the government to make the ISPs and network operators block access to websites. And even more concerning was his call for search engines to manipulate their results in order to place BPI funded sites ahead of others.
Geoff Taylor told the Daily Telegraph that he wanted " the Government to force internet service providers, such as Virgin and TalkTalk, to block sites which allow people to download music illegally. Furthermore, he wants the Government to ensure that search engines, such as Google rank legal sites, such as Spotify above illegal sites, in their search indexes."
He said something very similar in the BBC News 24 interview (which I saw but have no link to).
In policy terms there appear to be two issues here. The blocking legislation is incorporated within the Digital Economy Act. This was the clause which was drafted by the BPI's own legal team and tabled in the House of Lords, by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Clement -Jones. The original BPI draft was exposed almost two years' ago on iptegrity.com.
The clause, as it now stands, will have to come before Parliament, and go to the European Commission, before it can become law.
For search engines, the issue is not currently a matter of policy. Commercial organisations can pay for their results to appear at the top of the list, under the advertising options which they all offer. Therefore, Mr Taylor's organisation would be free to pay for this kind of advertising, in the same way that anyone else is.
Asking search engines to manipulate their free search results in the way he is suggesting, is more akin to State control of the media, and a totalitarian approach which does not fit within a liberal democracy which takes a pride in protecting freedom of expression.
Moreover, it would require a further legislative change and I cannot see that the BPI will get away with the same kind of back-room drafting that it got away with on the DE Act under the old Labour regime.
Geoff Taylor also expressed his frustration with the delays to the Digital Economy Act implementation, and referenced the sending of warning notices to users - the first stage of the 3-strikes which the legislation supports. Someone should also remind Mr Taylor that there is a Judicial Review pending of the DE Act, which precludes any further work on implementation for the moment.
However, it is a sign of gradual increase in pressure that we are seeing from the entertainment industries. Each year they shift up a gear, just a little, enough to tweak things forward, and before we know it we will have governments accepting that Internet blocking - censorship - is ok.
The Wikileaks events have shown us how corporations can be leaned on to block access to Internet content, and the BPI's call is a siren warning that the open Internet is threatened.
The BPI press release , which does not mention the call for Internet blocks, but does discuss 2010 revenues from digital music.
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2010) BPI (British IFPI) call to block the 'Net http://www.iptegrity.com 17 December 2010.